The Language4Peace focused workshop was held during Mennonite World Conference this past Wednesday, July 22. There, Kate Wentland and myself met with group of around 15 or so Anabaptists with experience and/or interest in teaching Language, Peace, and Mission.
We began by introducing ourselves and our language identities, answering questions like “What is your native language/other languages you speak?” “What are the regional dialects around you?” “What are the languages of your heritage?” “What are the native languages in your area?” “What are other languages surrounding your region?”
This portion of our time together was surprising to me, because I expected simple answers, but instead so many of us were very aware of the languages that are part of us, so we were able to share a lot.
We then conducted an exercise that opened our eyes up a little more about what it’s like to be trying to cooperate when we are operating with different languages and cultural assumptions. Without spoiling the secret of the exercise, in case our readers haven’t had a chance to experience it themselves, I’ll share insights about difficulties experienced from some of the participants after completeling two rounds of the exercise:
* When you aren’t able to express yourself, or explain what you mean, sometimes it feels easier to just sit back and not participate.
* When there were two different understandings, it was definitely easier to just each form our own sub-groups within the group to the complete the exercise as we saw fit. It would have taken a lot more time and patience to get everyone on the same page and cooperate together. We “avoided conflict” by staying in our own groups, but we missed out on all working together.
* [after mixing groups around a little] There is a clear Insider-Outsider dynamic here. The Insiders knew so well what to do that it was easy to just start doing the exercise without making sure Outsiders were tracking with us. Even using hand signals instead of spoken language could be unclear unless we have similar understandings about what’s going on.
* In our native languages we have the nuance of politeness and request-making, but when we find ourselves without those abilities, we can become rather blunt. It isn’t born out of ill-feelings or antagonism, but out of the lack of skill to “polish” our communication to make it more palatable.
Another place where we heard some insights from participants was in a time of sharing towards the end of the workshop. We told of our own “language for peace experiences” whether that was as a learner, a teacher, or an observer. Some members talked, while others listened and wrote on post-it notes the thoughts they had in response to the stories they heard. Here are some of the thoughts collected from the post-it notes:
* When everyone is on the same level, mistakes are forgiven.
* There are cultural differences in motivating students.
* Affirmation and encouragement are so important.
* Being willing to take risks is key.
* We need humility as learner; we need to give grace and encouragement as teachers.
* Necessity creates an environment for learning to happen more quickly; immersion can be helpful.
* Environment is important! A good space for learning helps a lot.
* Hearing well is important.
Participating and helping to facilitate the workshop reminded me about how valuable we are as resources to each other. Many heads together can create innovative ideas. I hope that even if you did not attend the workshop, you will be able to take advantage of this website as a resource to springboard even more conversations about how Language, Peace, and Mission can work together!